Young males within the African American community have received a considerable amount of negative publicity regarding poor secondary educational outcomes. To that end, it is not surprising that scholastic underachievement among members of this minority group is considered a national dilemma. Within the context of public school education, the African American community has experienced a variety of “highs and lows” in terms of academic misfortunes including low high school graduation rates and standardized test scores as well as increased high school dropout rates and an over-representation in special education classes. In addition, African American males are underrepresented in terms of enrollment with respect to honors courses in secondary educational settings and in colleges in the US.
The Role of Environment
In relation to poor academic achievement, there are numerous explanations that attempt to shed light regarding this dilemma. This includes instances of racial discrimination, inadequate school funding, poverty, and negative parental factors. For the most part, these explanations are based upon environmental factors that are obviously difficult to isolate African American youth from. However, there are a number of individual factors that may contribute to what is often considered academic apathy. Centered on the concept of trust, many African American males exhibit a distrustful attitude towards institutions that are governed by members of the White community. Thus, it is not surprising that individual perceptions of racial discrimination are common.
The Role of Cultural Identity
In a more disturbing trend, studies also reveal that many African American males often experience anxiety, ridicule, and alienation among their African American peers when attempting to perform well academically. For these students, applying themselves intellectually comes at the expense of being accused of “trying to act white” or expressing behavior that is considered disloyal in terms of racial identity. Within this context, ambitious African American males are often forced to choose between being smart or being accepted among other African Americans.
Despite the calamity of this self-inflicted cultural mentality, there are a number of African American males who are experiencing academic achievement. Like those of the civil rights era, these students are clearly transcending many of the challenges that are placed in their pathways. In an effort to resist the notion of cultural sabotage that may exist among African American males, these students are exposed to certain activities that promote their intellectual growth. These activities include religious instruction (i.e., church attendance), individual reading programs, opportunities in which broader conceptions of race are provided, and interaction with youth of different ethnic backgrounds.
As a community, let’s encourage our African American youth to pursue academic excellence. To settle for mediocrity not only undermines their potential for greatness in the future, it also may reinforce the negative stereotypes that exist in our society. Too many members of the civil rights movement have paid the ultimate price for the opportunities that exist today. In light of such, this process may involve an emphasis on empowering our young African American males to be something that many of them may be afraid of, intelligent.